As one half of the United In Design founding team, interior design Alexandria Dauley is making waves in the industry and not just for her interior creations (though the KLC School of Design-trained designer's work and approach certainly demands attention).
Here the designer discusses the charity's exciting first year, talks about her entrance into the industry and reveals how interiors are changing (think more thoughtful, less wasteful).
Alexandria, congratulations on United In Design which is celebrating its first anniversary in July. Tell us about the charity and the response to it since it launched.
Sophie Ashby and I founded United in Design in response to the events surrounding the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matters movement and the admission amongst the interior design community that there was a lack of diversity and barriers to entry. The charity is a road map for people within the design sector to follow and implement change. Our seven pledges create opportunities such as apprenticeships, mentoring, work experience [and] schools outreach which provide aspiring designers from ethnic minorities access to some of the best design companies in the UK. Our focus was to create something tangible, which brought about real results and change. Words, sentiment or hiding behind a diversity sticker are not enough—we need to see diversity in action.
You're surely hearing lots of stories from your mentees about their journey into design and passion for the craft. Where did your passion start and what was your journey into the industry?
Yes, hearing stories from our mentees is the main inspiration for what we do. Their talent, passion and drive is infectious. I had always loved property and started my career as an estate agent and then moved onto property relocation for expats. Having then renovated some of my own properties I decided to retrain at KLC and gain my qualification in interior design. As a mature student I brought life experience to my design practice and felt confident enough to set up on my own.
What was the first interior that really made an impact on you?
Through my role as a relocation agent I was fortunate to see and visit many inspirational properties. From townhouses in Kensington and Chelsea to larger country residences in Weybridge and Virginia Water. Most were very carefully considered and very well-appointed, in a range of styles. It was really at that time that I found a real appreciation for good design and started developing my own taste for interiors.
Who most inspired your design aesthetic?
I am very inspired by the Bauhaus movement. The architects of that time and the design principles born from the movement inspire many designers today including me. The link between artist, craftsmen and architect/designer is fluid. Form following function, simplicity, minimalism and the use of beautiful materials, shape and colour are all aspects I try to include in my designs. In more recent times, I really admired Sir Terence Conran for his design principles and bringing the notion of good design and considered pieces to a wider audience.
What is your creative process?
I tend to start by choosing some great background music to suit both my mood and the scope of work that is ahead of me. I look through a lot of design books, imagery on the internet, I take out my colour charts and start layering fabric swatches [and] samples to get to a starting point of colour, texture, pattern and form and it goes from there.
How do you approach designing a space?
Always with the client at the forefront. I actually try to become the client and imagine myself living in the space. How would I navigate the space, feel in the space etc. Considering their lifestyle and how they will use their home is always the starting point. Once I know them really well, I can then make informed decisions on the materials we will use, decide on furniture placements, orientation [and] colours, but I always refer to the client brief throughout to make sure their needs are catered for.
What makes a successful room?
I think a successful room is measured by how it makes you feel. If you are able to create a series of moments in someone’s home where that space evokes a positive feeling then you have done well as a designer.
How do you balance form and function?
Function is always paramount and then we make sure it looks beautiful. The fundamental elements in the space need to be functional and we can then be more frivolous with the pieces that are purely for aesthetic purposes only. Perhaps your sofa is really comfy and super practical but you have a gorgeous accent chair that you just like to look at. That’s ok if you have ample functional seating to allow the accent chair to just look pretty.
How has your understanding of interiors changed this past year?
We now know that interiors and the way in which we live and spend time in our homes has changed, probably forever. Homes are now multi-functional, multi-purpose spaces. They need to meet the demands of several uses for whole families. Work, rest, recreation—our homes need to do it all and clients are wanting to address that.
What are you pinning to your mood board right now?
I am drawn to a lot of architectural images rather than soft furnishings at the moment. I find myself drawn to quite masculine dark colours, natural textures and clean lines. I am loving the Instagram account of @est_living who have the most swoon-worthy posts.
What are your top tips for choosing pieces for the home?
I always advise my clients to invest in the key pieces that will be most used and expensive to replace. Once we decide on those we can accessorise with less expensive items that can be changed out easily, therefore giving the client flexibility and choice.
What's the most treasured item you own?
Nothing to do with interiors but I have a box full of memories of my daughters from when they were born—milestones, cards, school projects... Plus letters and cards from family members that are no longer with us. They are far more precious than anything material.
What is your main goal when designing?
To design and deliver a space that my client loves. Seeing their faces when they move back into the property is worth all of the long hours and hard work. This job is about people, making them feel proud, happy and content in their homes. Happy client, happy designer.
What does it mean to you to be a female principal?
I have always been around strong women my whole life so I understand the power of women and the scale of our achievements. I feel it is important to be an inspiration to others and especially to those closest to us. I try to lead by example, I have two impressionable, young, female minds in my house, so I always want to live my life in a positive way to ensure they have a role model in me.
What do you wish you saw more of in design?
I hope to see more cultural diversity and representation in design across the board. I also wish to see designs that are more accessible to a wider range of people as I believe everyone should be able to live in a well-designed space. There needs to be more focus on the design principles that everyone can apply rather than the pieces that many may find inaccessible.
How are interiors changing?
Interiors are becoming more thoughtful and less wasteful. Sustainable design is huge at the moment and will continue to be the hot topic. How much “stuff” do we need? Can we reuse, recycle, use materials that are less impactful to the environment?
What is luxury to you?
Luxury to me is contentment. I learnt that from a dear friend and neighbour who had very little but was the happiest and most content person I have ever met. You could say an item, activity or place is the definition of luxury, but they are fleeting. Health, happiness and love are the real luxuries in life.
5 Minutes with...
My design mantra is… form following function.
My secret design trick is... maximise storage.
My biggest design pet peeve is… magnolia paint and gaps on top of kitchen cabinets.
The easiest, most effective design technique is… using paint. [It’s] inexpensive and can transform a room.
Any design horror stories? None as yet, touch wood. My contractor normally picks up on anything before I even know.
Design of the future looks like… minimal, connected-to-nature, multipurpose spaces.
I hope my legacy is… to have helped unify and diversify the interior design industry.
One trend I can’t get on board with is… cottage core. Too fussy and floral for me.
I could never give up... baked goods, Caribbean food or holidays in the sun.
Person who's made the most impact on the design world? The architects of the Bauhaus movement—Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.
Favourite thing to buy for the home? Artwork.
Luxury at home means… feeling happy and content in your space.